This is not a continent that sits quietly whilst visited. Movement, noise and odour are prominent and all are to be found in abundance in a penguin colony. Many of the colonies have started their journey north, but some remain and we visited one on Sunday (March 22nd) afternoon.
The first sensation that hits the visitor as the rookery nears is the smell. Apart from swimming, eating, breeding and standing with bemused looks, penguins must spend the remainder of their time defecating – and they do it whilst standing which perhaps explains the bemused look. With literally thousands of penguins in a relatively small area, the end result is a rookery knee deep (their knees not mine) in penguin pooh, with a smell to match. But these are creatures that really don’t mind visitors and it isn’t long before they are curiously sidling up to us, just to see what we are about. They are also pretty busy as well, leaping in the water, swimming vigorously, leaping out, offspring chasing parents for food, noisy exchanges and of course the smell – I mentioned that but it deserved a reminder – I got one when I put my jacket on again the next morning and could still detect the odour that had permeated the fabric the day before. Noise and movement in Antarctica isn’t limited to the penguins though – the glaciers add their bit as well.
On Monday we visited Neko Harbour in the morning and Paradise Harbour in the afternoon, both sites of spectacular glaciers nestled between towering peaks and both vigorously calving with bits ranging in size from a small car to a medium sized office block falling into the sea at regular intervals. Each incident is typically preceded by a tremendous crack as the ice splinters followed by the roar of the collapse itself. A miniature tsunami then rushes across the harbour as a result, deluging the shore of the beach opposite. To add to this, the mountains of snow precariously attached to the cliff faces regularly let forth with small avalanches rushing down the slopes. Even the most impatient visitor doesn’t have to wait long to be rewarded with some form of glacial entertainment. The more patient ones will see the spectacular.
Our visit to Paradise Harbour was also highlighted by the sighting of several leopard seals and the appearance of the sun in the late afternoon, thereby allowing the harbour to live up to its name. The light here is somehow different to the rest of the world – perhaps it is the clean dry air. Whatever the reason, we were treated to an afternoon display on the glaciers and icebergs which shifted dramatically from moment to moment and left the expedition members with little else to do but look in amazement and bring cameras to the ready. This posting will be sent from our last stop before heading back into Drakes Passage. The satellite system used by 2041 only works with a clear and stable line of sight, but then it effectively delivers broadband speed. All being well I should be in contact again from Ushuaia or Buenos Aires before heading back to London.